Carefully leaving the survival bag at the entrance, but armed with nearly 300m of rope, we went down to tidy up last trips rigging (restoring my personal SRT gear to its rightful place), finish rigging to last year's limit, and push on. We put a ladder on the Bog Seat Pitch, completely destroyed the little squeeze just after the first big shaft, and put a bolt into the head of the pitch which was previously just belayed to a shitty column. Managed to find John's rebelay on Tiddly Pom pitch, which was carefully concealed behind a flake. Then some more bits, then we rigged the small pitch before last year's final 40m pitch. This lands on a small ledge. We found Wiggy's two bolts which we rigged (the start of the 200m Edelrid) in a fine Y belay. It's a fine circular shaft, but twanging 10mm Edelrid forced a rebelay ~10m from the floor. From here on we were in the new stuff, it continues as a completely dry canyon ~4m wide. It looks as if it has been washed out very thoroughly, very recently - there are no loose stones around, and no mud, but no water flowing at all - I doubt whether it takes any water even in flood (see later), it's probably an oxbow for the water entering just before the pitch before the 40m - it may well flow in the spring thaw. The canyon continues down in smallish pitches (4, 10, 6, 20) to a large boulder-strewn section. All were rigged for zero abrasion, but non-zero effort. At this bouldery bit there were some superb helictites. In general, Wolfhöhle is the best decorated cave in this part of the world. Also from this ledge was a pitch (10m ?) which looked to end in a mud choke, but may be a way on. But we went down the obvious way, a 30m (?) shaft which was rebelayed with various bits and pieces (Team zero imagination). This landed on a solid floor, the way to the _left_ led to a muddy rift which ended in an aven (could thus be the continuation of the pitch we saw on the bouldery bit); the way to the _right_ led, yes, you've guessed it, to a muddy rift, BEEZLEY STREET (where the cats have rickets) (see note at end). We almost thought this was the final sump, but a traverse above (the static puddle) led to some stal (now muddy) and a 15m pitch from a flake. This dropped into the bottom of a fine phreatic shaft with fine round potholes in the floor, another rift leads off (with puddle in the bottom too) and where a slab falls across the rift a pitch (10m) was undescended (our caving correspondant informs me). This area looks a bit like the phreatic bits in 115 (well, a bit, anyway).
So, at 1.30 am after 12 hours caving, we turned round and had to negotiate all our nasty rigging. We got back to the pitch just above where the stream disappears down the floor, and all of a sudden heard a WHOOSH and a couple of seconds later the water volume tripled. Not being very slow, we realised we'd been hit by a flood pulse. We retreated to think in the dry bit for a while, but after half an hour decided to try and get out. We got up the 50m Edelrid OK, but the lower section of Tiddly Pom pitch proved too wet and we had to retreat to the rift before this, which was reasonably draught free. We sat down to wait and assessed our situation, 10 hours carbide, the very broken remains of a packet of Dig bics and 2 cherry sweets. We attempted intellectual conversation - "What time is it Andy ?", "I'm bored Pete, can't we go out yet ?", "Has the water gone down yet ?"
We played I-Spy (Dark, bristle, innertube, eyebrows), rigged each other up in strait jackets, and to maintain traditions, "huddled together to keep warm" - Shalford man in rescue drama - and built stone walls without much success. After 3 hours, the water started to go down, but being simple lads and only expecting one pulse, we waited; unfortunately it went up again. After it had fallen and risen once again, we realised it was raining fairly continuously, and it might be days before it fully went down. So after 12 hours wait, we took the advantage of a slight downflow in the water to make a break for it. The bottom 15m were extremely wet (similar to Main Shaft in reasonable water), but fortunately, John's rebelay was out of the water, which had been our main worry because Andy's gobbler doesn't work too well under water. The only problem was opening jammer safety catches with frozen fingers. We both suffered slight nauseous shock as our fingers defrosted at the head of the big pitch.
The rest of the way out was damp everywhere, but no severe problems. At every turn we were expecting to hear cheerful voices and friendly faces, but we emerged at 5pm to fine mist and drizzle, with no sign of burnt rice pudding anywhere. Where was our rescue ? (see next exciting installment).
Pete 28 hours underground, 18 caving hours.
"... the _rats_ have all got rickets,
they spit through broken teeth..."